Sunday, 12 September 2010


How, oh how, Barack Obama must wish for the kind of popularity surge that formed the wave that he crested into Washington on in January 2009. His campaign had eerie similarities with our own Labour landslide in the 1997 general election that brought Tony Blair into power. However, unlike Blair, Obama is struggling to fill the shoes that the world wanted him to following his inauguration eighteen months ago.

Say what you like about Tony, he was certainly a 'big' politician in the sense of having a remarkable impact upon the country, like Churchill or Thatcher - regardless of whether you believe those particular ideologies. Obama, on the other hand, looks like a man struggling against the tide. This was epitomised for me in his weak response to manic preacher Terry Jones' planned 'Burn a Qur'an Day'.

In what was a calculated effort to further destabilise interfaith relations in a country which is still struggling with the possibility that a mosque may be built at the location of Ground Zero, the world needed Obama to stand head and shoulders above the controversy, and remind us all of us who was in charge. Instead, he mewled deferentially about getting Jones 'to understand that this stunt that he is talking about pulling could greatly endanger our young men and women in uniform.' In truth, it could have endangered us all. Internet rumour suggests that Jones only pulled the plan for a book-burning at the last possible moment when it was made clear to him how much he could be fined for violating local fire regulations.

Obama's inability to show strong leadership over the planned book burning was also evident in his clumsy mishandling of the Gulf Oil crisis (and still it continues). In scenes reminiscent of George Bush's failure to take action following Hurricane Katrina, Obama showed more of a tendancy towards hand-wringing than genuine leadership and his lack of decisiveness was evident as the administration showed plenty of willingness to criticise BP, but showed no real desire to step in and tackle the issues that arose.

What else then, has Obama done (or not done) to make himself so unpopular? The very same people-powered effort that propelled him into the limelight has evidently caused its own problems. Obama's campaign efforts were staggeringly effective, but this generated a lot of expectation from voters and so far, the safest of his policies have failed to live up to the hype.

At the other end of the spectrum, the most controversial of his policies have have a distinctly negative effect on his popularity. The healthcare reforms that he promised have been agreed, albeit in a watered-down form, and while this does mean that many thousands more people than before are now covered by health insurance, the monstrous cost (supposedly in the region of $900 million) could not have come at a worse time for the US, given that it is already in the fiscal mire.

Add to that the perceived weakness already discussed, the US Foreign Affairs department's inability to deliver any kind of coherent, positive foreign policy, the continued involvement in Afghanistan and the fact that even his own populace mistakenly believe him to be a Muslim, and you have the recipe for a Presidential-sized mess.

Nile Gardiner wrote recently that 'America at its core remains a deeply conservative nation, which cherishes its traditions and founding principles.' Obama may do well to remember this statement and look towards future policymaking with it in mind. With a likely pasting due in the forthcoming midterm elections, there is evidently much still to be done if Barrack Obama is set to convince the American people he is worth a second term.

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